USMAN KHAWAJA believes he is primed to fill the huge gap left by the retirement of Mike Hussey and West Indian superstar Chris Gayle declared his Sydney Thunder teammate could have a Michael Clarke-like impact on the international arena.
Khawaja, who has been named as Clarke's shadow in the past two Test squads, played the last of his six matches in the baggy green cap against New Zealand last year. While he had a modest Test average of 29.22, the gifted left-hander has been solid for his adopted state Queensland, scoring 438, the third most, at 39.81 in the Sheffield Shield ranks this season.
And with experience and youth on his side Khawaja is likely to be handed another opportunity in the national side as Hussey's long-term replacement just a month after missing when another former discard, Phillip Hughes, jumped him in the queue for the batting spot left by Ricky Ponting's recent retirement.
"There's probably no better time but we will have to wait and see," Khawaja said. "If the opportunity arises and I get my chance I'll be really happy. I don't know [if I'm ready] until I play again but I feel like I'm in a good spot and I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever have."
His campaign for Test inclusion received support from Gayle who declared Khawaja was more than ready to cement himself in Australia's batting line-up. "Uzzy has been timing the ball really well," Gayle said. "He definitely has a bright Test career ahead of him if he is given a chance. I don't see any reason why he can't score runs and be dominant like a Michael Clarke in the future. Once he gets his chance, hopefully he'll make use of it."
Khawaja had another opportunity to impress Clarke and coach Mickey Arthur when he spent time with the Australian camp in the lead-up the Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka. Despite being the front-runner to fill the spot, he faces stiff competition from uncapped Tasmanian Alex Doolan, Bushrangers veteran David Hussey and likely Sydney Test debutant Glenn Maxwell. "It was a bit different," Khawaja said. "I haven't been in that environment for a while now but it was good fun."
Khawaja will only have one Shield match, against Western Australia on February 4, before Australia play their first of four Tests against India on February 22 in New Delhi. The 26-year-old said he had grown as a person since his Test dumping.
"It's all about the experience you get from playing Test cricket and the experience you get from being dropped and the experience of moving to another state and rebuilding some love for cricket," Khawaja said. "All that combined helps you grow as a person and gives you more experience as a cricketer. Cricket is tough, you have a lot of ups and downs. There's a lot of cricket between now and [the Indian tour].
"If I don't keep my head down it'll all pass me, I'd love to be on that tour but I have to keep scoring runs."
Khawaja hit 66 not out in the Thunder's loss to the Sixers in the Sydney BBL derby on Sunday night.
The story Khawaja: I'm ready to step into the breach for Australia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.